Elevator safety: Going down?

New York is a rarity in that it does not require elevator mechanics to be licensed.

Nearly four months to the day after a woman heading into work was crushed to death in an elevator, Council members will push to strengthen elevator safety at a hearing today, arguing that, despite an investigation into the gruesome death, many city elevators are still not safe enough.

A Housing and Buildings committee hearing will focus on two city bills, both proposed after advertising executive Suzanne Hart, 41, died on Dec. 14 when an elevator in her Midtown office shot up suddenly. Hart was killed when her body became stuck between the elevator doors and the wall.

The incident frayed nerves around the city, where millions start their day by stepping into an elevator.
A subsequent Department of Buildings investigation after her death revealed that New York elevator mechanics are not required to be licensed.

“If plumbers and electricians are required to be licensed to work in New York, it stands to reason that elevator workers should be licensed as well,” Bronx Councilman James Vacca said. “That licensing has not happened to date is a major omission that we must rectify.”

New York is rare in not mandating the licenses, something 36 other states require, according to the Council. Vacca, along with Queens Councilman Peter Vallone, sponsored a bill requiring licensing of elevator technicians. Council spokeswoman Robin Levine said that in states where elevator mechanics must be licensed, there is a 25 percent reduction in lift accidents.

Another bill, sponsored by Housing and Buildings chair and Brooklyn Councilman Erik Martin Dilan, would require residential and mixed-use buildings to install safety devices that prevent cars from striking the top of elevator shafts, in case they suddenly accelerate.

In Hart’s case, an investigation found that her elevator was missing a crucial safety device, which would have prevented it from suddenly accelerating. 

“New Yorkers need to know that the elevators they use are safe and maintained to ensure they’re up to the highest safety standards,” said Dilan.


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